Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
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My Mellow, My Man
2005-06-19 11:43
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

I've written on numerous occasions over the past few seasons about what will happen to the Yanks After George. The $64,000 question is not "What will happen to the Bronx Bombers when Torre is gone?" but "What will happen when George is gone?" For anyone under 35 (I just turned 34), we simply don't know what a Yankee Universe is like without George. We're accustomed to his ways, for better or for worse. And though we've heard in the media that behind closed doors Steinbrenner is still as incorrigible as ever, publicly, he's a far cry from the Bronx Zoo Boss of the 1970s and '80s.

What? He called Hideki Irabu a slob in 1999, he traded for Mondesi a few years later, busted Don Zimmer's chops to no end, and took turns giving Derek Jeter and Joe Torre some grief too. This is all mild stuff coming out of Steinbrenner.

Yet when the Yanks struggle, there is great anticipation about "What George will do next?" I think the guy is a far cry from what he once was, and I'm guilty of expecting an explosion every now and again. You'd think this would be the year he'd let loose. Fire the pitching coach or the general manager: something, already.

But it's becoming increasingly clear that there will be no fireworks. Not in the same way we used to see. I was thinking about this last week, when I noticed that Tom Verducci hit on how George has changed in his recent mailbag column. In talking about Brian Cashman, Verducci wrote:

He works for a very different Steinbrenner than the stereotype people keep writing about (he's extremely sensitive now and hasn't fired anybody in years).

Picking up on this theme, Mike Lupica has an outstanding piece on Steinbrenner today in the Daily News. I grew up reading Lupica, and though I've never admired him as a stylist, I respect the fact that he's been covered Steinbrenner and the Yankees for close to thirty years. When he's good, Lupica still can hit the nail right on the head. He doesn't often write long articles anymore, but this one is choice:

Anybody who watched his recent interview on YES with Michael Kay or watched this staged media event the other day, has to know that the Boss Steinbrenner that is still written about and discussed on television and the radio does not exist. He can still blow his top. He can still make a headline. But he is as real now as the young Mike Tyson is real.

...The truth is, Steinbrenner says hardly anything of interest anymore.

The Boss that the media and the Yankees still want, the Reggie-Billy-Bronx Zoo boss, no longer exists.

Lupica speculates who might take control once George steps down, and how it will impact the organization. He doesn't think it looks promising, and I have to agree. There has been a lot to dislike about Steinbrenner over the years, but he also has tried to put a winning team on the field, no matter the cost. Some Yankee fans might grow to really miss him once he's gone. (Last year, Allen Barra wrote an appreciation of Steinbrenner for the Village Voice, and suggested that we should be thankful for what Boss George has given us now...six world championships and ten World Series appearances in just over thirty years.) Lupica believes that those days are close to being over. Then, in his own, inimitable way, he calls it like it is:

It is obvious by now that love Steinbrenner or hate him, there will never be another owner, in any city in any sport, like him.

That's the fact, Jack.

Comments
2005-06-19 12:30:18
1.   billyfrombelfast
I think Lupica's colleague Bob Raissmann hit the nail (a little brutally) on the head a few weeks ago with his review of the YES network interview with Steinbrenner:

http://tinyurl.com/cb6y6

2005-06-19 13:09:07
2.   rbj
And it's a sweep by the Yankees, woo hoo! The Cubs remain 0 fer the Stadium.
And re: Steinbrenner, it seems that he realizes that Alzheimer's is starting to set in, which is why he wants one more while he can still appreciate it. As much of a prick as he could be, he always wanted the Yankees to win, which is not universal in sports.
2005-06-19 13:24:06
3.   singledd
I always thought GS was an A-hole, and especially hated the Bronx Zoo days. However, he is old and mellowed now, and has 2 things that, with all his faults considered, make him the best owner in baseball.
1) He is desperate to win
2) He puts his money where his mouth is

Because of this, we have always had a shot... which is more the 2/3 of MLB has.

He was a pain in the ass, but he will be missed. If the 'nexy guy' doesn't lay out the bucks, we could be in trouble for a decade.

May, those games to KC REALLY HURT. 2 out of 3 would have put us 1 game out of first.

2005-06-19 14:14:12
4.   Patrick
People want this, people want that.

When he's blasting people, he's a crazy jerk who doesn't have a clue. When he's quiet, he's a shell of his former self. Just enjoy him what he is - a hall of fame owner if there ever was one.

2005-06-19 14:37:31
5.   seamus
Personally, I think this somehow gets to what is REALLY wrong with baseball. It isn't that baseball lacks a salary cap but that baseball lacks a means to regulate the OWNERS whose whims and behavior guide a franchises likelihood of success regardless of the franchise. There is a reason that certain smaller market teams (Minnesota) win and others do not win. There is a reason certain large market teams always win (Yankees) while others don't. And every franchise including the Yankees and Pirates can attribute a huge proportion of their success/failure in what their ownership has done. And yet we still have done or proposed nothing to regulate this. And while it is true that a salary cap is a partial regulation, it simply rewards the do nothing owners at the expense of the do it all owners. We need a better way.
2005-06-19 14:47:35
6.   Simone
Based on George's public and privately reported behavior, good and bad, I have always found him to be a complicated and difficult rich person. He has been downright depicable at moments, only to be stunningly kind and generous at other times. Despite his flaws, I have always considered us Yankee fans lucky that he bought the team from CBS. George meant it when he said that he wanted to win unlike the other owners who could buy and sell him ten times over. Even when George was banned, he didn't cut payroll. He plunged the Yankees' profits back into the team and then created a financial empire with the creation of YES.

A lot of Yankee fans don't realize the extent of the financial mess, CBS left the Yankees in. George pushed his limited partners to actually invest their own money into the Yankees to get the team out of debt and competitive again. Last year, the NY Times published one of the vaguely threatening letters that he sent to his partners twisting their arms to get the money of them.

George has been an outstanding owner and his tenure will be considered to be among the Yankees' glory years. It will be decades for any owner in any professional sports comes close to George's accomplishments. The Yankee fans who talk about not being able to wait until the Yankees have another owner have no clue how lucky we have been or how bad things can get under an owner who isn't willing to spend to win.

BTW, I find Lupica obnoxious and full of self-importance.

2005-06-19 15:31:19
7.   monkeypants
"Personally, I think this somehow gets to what is REALLY wrong with baseball. It isn't that baseball lacks a salary cap but that baseball lacks a means to regulate the OWNERS whose whims and behavior guide a franchises likelihood of success regardless of the franchise. There is a reason that certain smaller market teams (Minnesota) win and others do not win. There is a reason certain large market teams always win (Yankees) while others don't. And every franchise including the Yankees and Pirates can attribute a huge proportion of their success/failure in what their ownership has done. And yet we still have done or proposed nothing to regulate this. And while it is true that a salary cap is a partial regulation, it simply rewards the do nothing owners at the expense of the do it all owners. We need a better way."

Why do we need to regulate the owners? Why is it not part of the game that some owners try harder to win or are simply better at winning? By this logic, should we regulate the managers? The coaches? and how exactly do we (and who are we anyway) regulate this perceived problem? Do we take away franchises from owners who are foolish? Do we penalize owners who are too smart?

The argument seems to posit that winning baseball teams are some sort of entitlement to which we have a right. It's entertainment, and if you (the consumers/fans) don't like the product then you can stop buying it or change brands (switch allegiance).

Now, the owners may decide that from a business standpoint it is better to impose more competitiveness on the part of fellow owners, but that is a decision for the owners (or the players for that matter, who may argue that incompetent owners hurt their market value and who with their union can bargain for some say in how the team(s) are run).

And anyway, what sport regulates their owners in the way suggested? No owner in the NFL is prevented from doing dumb things with his team, if he or she wants.

2005-06-19 15:38:48
8.   seamus
You are right. Sports teams should be there only for the entertainment of the super rich and the rest of us can't attach ourselves to a team for life because if we don't like what those rich brats do we should just like a different team even though we'll then get ridiculed for that by other fans.

The issue isn't whether or not winning is an entitlement, but that if these sports are to live up to their hype, and their roles in our lives, that all fans deserve a team that tries to win in action and not just words.

All sports regulate their owners to a certain extent. However, their are ownership models that help resolve the problems of millions of fans becoming disenfranchised at the whims of a few rich figures.

2005-06-19 16:23:57
9.   monkeypants
It's the fact that we as fans attach ourselves to teams for life that allow the owner and players to behave as they do, because we create an irrational demand for the product they sell. And this is coming from a lifelong Yankees fan who on the one hand has been fortunate enough to enjoy winning team, but on the other hand pays the second highest ticket prices in the country for the privilege.

Sports can essentially never live to their hype, nor should we allow ourselves to believe that they can, nor should we should not let them rule our lives to such a degree. Becasue in so doing we only add to and encourage more hype.

Our greatest power is simply not to buy into the hype. This IS difficult. It means accepting whatever product a whimsical owner may put on the field simply because it's "our team" and not caring, essentially, about wins and losses or what the owner says about the team, or it means the even more difficult decision to stop supporting that team until the owner/team lives up to expectations.

Think about it--no other entertainment (at least that I can think of) has the grasp that sports do on their customers. If your favorite actor makes bad movies, you stop going. If your favorite group starts to suck, you don't buy their last albums. You may continue to patronize them for a while, out of duty or curiosity, but sooner or later you replace them with options you find more enjoyable. But we let ourselves be seduced by sports. We bind our individual and communal identities to sports teams--not to symphonies or libraries or debate teams or dance companies or any other entertainment outlet (at least not to the same degree)--and that gives the millionaires their power to manipulate us.

As for alternate ownership models, I suppose their could be better options, though it is still not clear to me how to regulate whimsical owners nor why they should not be seen as part of the game. But if there are millions of disenfranchised fans, as the growing attendance figures do not show, only when they stop going to the games, buying jerseys, paying extra for sorts cable networks, etc will the owners (and players) have the incentive to change the system.

If the cost is the mockery of other beguiled fans, so be it.

2005-06-19 16:48:35
10.   rbs10025
If people are hot and bothered about "ownership models" of sports leagues and teams, you may want to spend some time over at The Sports Economist, http://www.thesportseconomist.com/ The topic has been coming up there often of late, now that Malcolm Grazer is about to crash the party in UK soccer. UK soccer may have more the model that seamus wants, but how much longer will they have it?

And as for George, my opinion of him turned 180 deg when they handed him the World Series trophy and he was in tears because of what the team had accomplished that year. The hard-hearted old bastard was crying? Wow.

2005-06-19 17:21:39
11.   JohnnyC
I find it bizarre and more revealing about Lupica himself that the man who has consistently demonized Steinbrenner for almost two decades and originally bestowed upon him the derisive title of The Boss, now wants to give him some back-handed compliment about his allegedly new-found restraint and civility. Thanks for the deep-think, Mike, but don't hurt your brain for our sake. Save the purple, twisted prose for your next turgid mystery novel.
2005-06-19 17:52:19
12.   Peter
"And as for George, my opinion of him turned 180 deg when they handed him the World Series trophy and he was in tears because of what the team had accomplished that year. The hard-hearted old bastard was crying? Wow."

I felt the same way too, although after a lifetime of intensely hating Steinbrenner, my turnaround didn't come until this offseason when I realized he was just about the only owner willing to spend his own money on the team rather just pocketing the profits. He still forces the Yankees to make bad decisions, but at least now I can appreciate his dedication.

2005-06-19 18:02:15
13.   singledd
I very much agree with Seamus, that there NEEDS to be some rules that go with owning a baseball club. Yes, baseball is a businuess, but it is also a very important part of Americana.

Steinbrenner pays a fortune in luxury tax, the purpose of which is to help competative balance. It IS fair that a big market team contibutes to small market teams. After all, the Yankees are nothing without other teams to play. But to give 10mil to a team only to have the owner pocket the money and NOT put it back in the team, is a crime... and certainly against the reason for the system being what it is.

Hey... most owners are pretty rich. They can buy any number of business's, invest in the stock market, and make money in any number of ways. They don't need to buy a team just to make money.

Baseball is special. It is not just a business. Money should be put into building competative balance, marketing MLB, building baseball fields in poor and rural areas, and doing anything that promotes America's love affair with baseball. To have owners pocket the money and NOT invest in their team is disgusting. A MINIMUM payroll would be better that a cap. Don't want to invest in your team? Too risky? Then go elsewhere, and leave ownership to people who love baseball.
Buy IBM stock instead.

Hey... the Yanks are 3.5 games out of the wildcard. A little silly to say that now, but it's encouraging to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

2005-06-19 18:16:06
14.   Simone
"I find it bizarre and more revealing about Lupica himself that the man who has consistently demonized Steinbrenner for almost two decades and originally bestowed upon him the derisive title of The Boss, now wants to give him some back-handed compliment about his allegedly new-found restraint and civility. Thanks for the deep-think, Mike, but don't hurt your brain for our sake. Save the purple, twisted prose for your next turgid mystery novel."

Freaking Word, JohnnyC. Mike Lupica is a tabloid commentator who is not and never was a sports journalist worthy of anyone's respect. He has ripped and insulted, not just Steinbrenner and the Yankees over the years, but other sports figures. I'll never forget Lupica crying and whining over the ugly emails and letters sent to him on the Sports Reporters when he bashed Jim Tressel, Ohio State football head coach for allegedly running up the score against some team. Yet in just about every column, he has ever written has been an ugly and often vicious attack on some unwitting sports personality. Lupica loves to dish it out, but he can't take it when he is target of people's revulsion. He must be the biggest hypocrite in the NY media and that is saying a lot given the tabloid mentality of NY sports writers.

2005-06-19 18:34:52
15.   monkeypants
"A MINIMUM payroll would be better that a cap. Don't want to invest in your team? Too risky? Then go elsewhere, and leave ownership to people who love baseball.
Buy IBM stock instead."

There already is a minimum payroll, which is (de facto) 25 x league minimum salary. I guess the minimum total payroll could be raised, but how would that be accomplished? Should the players' min salary be raised, which may simply shift the enitre pay scale without really compellling teams to imrove? Or, raise the total payroll without raising minimum salary--what would stop an owner from just signing one big-name player as a draw, w/o improving the team?

The whole discussion strikes me as ahistorical. As far as I can tell, as much as baseball is a part of Americana, so is shitty baseball ownership. There have been whimsical, selfish, and non-competitive owners as long as the game has been played professionally. I'm not convinced the "problem" is worse now than it ever has been.

But if there is a problem, then the power we do have as fans is not to patronize crappy teams and shitty owners. Put economic pressure on them not to pursue non-competitive practices. Don't be like Cubs fans who pour into Wrigley no matter how futile the team is, just so they can watch Slammin' Sammy (or whoever it may be this year) and listen to some celebrity sing Take Me out to the Ball Game. And for that matter, don't cry for salary minimums or similar which will probably just raise the operating costs of teams, which in turn will further justify owners claims that they need to raise ticket prices or build new stadiums.

2005-06-19 18:51:28
16.   seamus
For what its worth, establishing a team minimum is NOT the same as a minimum wage for each individual player. A team minimum would rationally be established well above the collective multiplier of min. MLB wage X players. The point is to require that teams sign talent and not just min. salary players. It isn't a bad idea really.

Just because there is a history of bad owners doesn't mean it is not problem or that it shouldn't be addressed. Owners undergo a very minimal test before they are able to buy a MLB team (mostly financial and I believe the NFL test is more stringent). Managers, players, coaches, and other personnel have resumes or stat sheets and do try outs and interviews. They are hired/signed based on their skills except when they just happen to be the cousin of the owner or something.

Sports franchises are considered a public trust and MLB in particular has a unique anti-trust exemption because of this. This is because their unique roll in Americana is recognized. It is one thing to allow investors to make a buck on a franchise and another to allow the whims of one or a few rich fanatics to ruin a public trust.

People always complain about the players union (justifiably) but who talks about the fact that the league owners form one of the most powerful bosses associations in America? The players shoudl accept a salary cap and force the owners to accept a series of clauses forcing competitiveness and spending.

Thanks for the info on the baseball economist. I'll check it out. I'm not familiar with the setup of soccer overseas but am interested.

2005-06-19 19:14:12
17.   monkeypants
"Sports franchises are considered a public trust and MLB in particular has a unique anti-trust exemption because of this."

One of the best things would be if baseball lost this antiquated exemption, which would do more to force MLB owners to behave more repsonsibly than a payroll minimum. And, by the way, I am not against a payroll minimum, I am just not convinced it would do much to make teams more competitive. So long as fans are willing to patronize bad teams--indeed, so long as sports teams are viewed as public trusts--unscrupulous owners will be able to manipulate fans w/o necessarily fielding competitve teams.

This is what the Orioles did, in my opinion, when they had Cal Ripken at the end of his career--his streak and his personal accomplishments, and a shiny stadium, outweighed the often poor decisions by the ownership. The Cubs have gotten away with this for years, and frankly the Gianst could go into the toilet as long as Bonds returns and marches past Ruth and Aaron. It would e worth it for an owner to pay a zillion dollars to a Bonds as long as fans come through teh turnstiles, no matter how many games the team actually wins.

You are correct, though, that fans are often quick to criticize the players w/o saying much about how unscrupulous the owners are. I

2005-06-19 21:53:38
18.   rbs10025
"As far as I can tell, as much as baseball is a part of Americana, so is shitty baseball ownership."

Now there's a line for the quote file.

2005-06-19 21:54:42
19.   rbs10025
Previously I said...

"And as for George, my opinion of him turned 180 deg when they handed him the World Series trophy and he was in tears because of what the team had accomplished that year. The hard-hearted old bastard was crying? Wow."

I left out the "in 1998".

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